The Loser

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The Loser by Fatos Kongoli

Translated from Albanian by Robert Elsie

Published by Seren, November 2007


Set in 1991, when over 10,000 Albanian refugees escaped to southern Italy following the collapse of the Hoxa regime, Thesar Lumi, the ‘loser’, decides at the last minute to step off the boat and return to his family. Why? The novel returns to the numbing years of the Hoxha dictatorship and the climate of terror and despair which characterized daily life in Albania. Lumi was born in the shadow of a state cement factory, which produced more dust than cement. Despite an uncle who had fled the country, he manages to get himself registered at the university, and penetrates briefly into a milieu which he can never truly join, that of the ruling families of Albania’s red aristocracy. Guilty by association with one of these families during an internal purge Thesar, whose fate in Albania’s suffocating society has been irrevocably sealed, returns home to live a life of futility and despair as childhood events also haunt him. Stifled by the hold of the state, Lumi is incapable of action and of living. His is the voice of all the ‘losers’ who glimpse silver clouds on the horizon and know they are unattainable.


Fatos Kongoli is a classic example of a writer whose work was restricted by a totalitarian regime in eastern Europe. This novel is a moving portrayal of the suppression not just of art by a controlled press and other repressive state mechanisms, but of a whole people denied the freedom to express themselves individually, to circulate and discuss ideas about ways of living and thinking, and structures of society and government. In short it is about the denial of the right to freedom of an entire population and the kind of personal despair such despotism can produce.

Born 1944 and author of four novels, Kongoli is considered one of the most forceful and convincing representatives of contemporary Albanian literature. The Loser is his first novel. His work has been translated to critical acclaim in French, German, Italian, Greek and Slovak. Having studied in China Kongoli worked as a mathematician during the Hoxa regime, preferring not to publish major works until that period ended, since when he has become one of the leading writers from Albania, recording the plight of that country and its people under the repressive Communist regime. When first published in 1992, in a comparatively large edition of 10,000 copies, The Loser found immediate success. It has been described as the most important Albanian novel to emerge from the post-Communist era.


Robert Elsie is a Canadian with a longstanding (over thirty years) specialism in Albanian and Balkan history and literature. He has translated dozens of novels and stories, interviewed and promoted a wide range of authors and runs an informative, authoritative and vitally important website ‘Albanian Authors in Translation’. The site includes the largest selection of Albanian and Kosovan literature ever to appear in English. He also maintains a website devoted to the history of Albania, comprising a collection of texts from the eleventh century onwards which shed light on a neglected corner of Europe. He is currently employed as an Interpreter by The Hague International Courts.


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